When fall arrives in New York, you do not have to check the calendar to know it has arrived. You can feel it in the cooler weather and you can see it in the changing colors of the foliage.
Once you start to reach for a cozy sweater then it is time to head outside and see the leaves as they turn from green into glorious shades of orange, red, and yellow.
When September starts to introduce shorter days, you can get away and see the vibrant shades from several tree varieties.
Seeing how the leaves change before the nip of winter comes in would also make a great reason for a getaway. Get some fresh air and wrap up warm as we look at the best New York fall foliage.
What Is Considered Fall Foliage?
When the season of fall occurs, it brings with it the natural phenomenon of the changing color of leaves. This happens to several deciduous trees and shrubs as they alter from green to stunning shades of orange, red, yellow, brown, and even purple.
This occurrence is known by various names such as fall foliage but also fall colors, autumn foliage, and autumn colors.
Eventually, the leaves fall to the ground so you may want to experience them earlier while they are still on the trees. It’s time to strap on some boots and kick across piles of the gorgeous fallen leaves.
There is also the term ‘peak’ which is used to describe color changes. In that sense, the peak is typically when the foliage has its best overall appearance for brilliance, color transition, and eventual dropping of leaves.
The foliage change may be uneven depending on the weather and the tree variety itself so do not be too disappointed to see numerous green leaves.
Even outside of fall, Finger Lakes is truly deserving of a visit for anyone who loves the outdoors. From huge state parks to stunning waterfalls and superb hiking trails, you can take your pick of where to go and what to see.
However, if there are two parks to recommend then Taughannock Falls State Park and Glen State Park. These two come top of the list. Throughout October, you can enjoy the changing colors of black birch, red maples, sweet and sour gums, and tulip trees.
Situated around 90 miles north of New York City, Mohonk Mountain House in the Hudson Valley is a superb destination for a weekend getaway.
The Victorian castle has some gorgeously elegant interior design, including vintage fireplaces, yet step outside and you can take in the fall foliage.
From the second week in October, the red maple, hemlock, and sassafras trees provide a mixture of yellow, orange, and red colors.
You could see them from the comparative comfort of your room yet it is worth strolling through the grounds, around the lake, or hiking, paddle-boarding, or even tomahawk throwing.
Hudson State Historic Park
From mid-October to early November, head to Hudson State Historic Park and find their walkway.
Across both sides of the 1.28 mile-long bridge that connects Poughkeepsie to Highland, you can enjoy the orange and yellow shades on the red maple, maple, white oak, and tulip trees.
If you have a young family then the Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum in Poughkeepsie is worth seeking out for its programs and hands-on exhibits which should keep the kids entertained.
For more family-friendly fun, take a drive for an hour and ten minutes from New York City to find Bear Mountain. As well as the fall foliage from northern red oaks, red maple, chestnut oaks, and pine trees, there is a range of activities to enjoy.
Whether you want to take a walk across the Bear Mountain Bridge, paddle your way through Hessian Lake, or enjoy a sedate afternoon fishing, there is plenty to do. The Trailside Museums and Zoo can also entertain the family for a few hours.
The drive from Manhattan will include the Palisades Parkway where you can see the red and orange-hued trees as they dominate the landscape.
As you arrive at the park, you can even seek out the views from the top of the mountains. While it may be a bit chilly for a picnic, the best time to visit is from mid to late October.
The Storm King Art Center
In Orange County, you can find a vast collection of contemporary outdoor sculptures. The Storm King Art Center in Mountainville is known for its open-air museum and the best time to visit is in late October.
That’s when the Storm King is engulfed in vivid yellow, orange, and red trees which tends to take some of the focus away from the sculptures. From American sycamore to red maples, oaks, hickory, and tulip trees, the colors are unforgettable.
Shawangunk Mountains Scenic Byway
From early to late October, head to the Shawangunk Mountains Scenic Byway for incredible color displays of fall foliage. The 88-mile loop can be found north of Manhattan Midtown between New Paltz and Keserhonkson.
Pay attention to the road but try to glance at the views as you climb the Shawangunk Mountains. These are over 2,000 feet above sea level.
There are two overlooks to enjoy which include vast views of the Catskill Mountains and the Rondout Valley.
Once you do stop, try to find a spot at Minnewaska State Park Preserve. Take this chance to rock climb, cycle, take a hike to a waterfall, or simply just enjoy a walk.
For a mix of red, orange, and green hues on the leaves, the red maples, black birch, sweet and sour gums, and tulip trees will provide some visual stimulation.
The Adirondack Mountains
In the higher elevations, fall foliage can occur a bit earlier from early October. Bang in the middle of the Adirondack Mountains is Lake Placid. This area is known for its mountain peaks, waterfalls, stunning lakes, gorges, and, of course, forests.
For some awe-inspiring vistas in fall, try a hike to the top of a mountain. If heights are not your thing then try a canoe ride across one of the crystal clear lakes.
The Adirondack Mountains may be worth a weekend trip as there is so much to see and do. Enjoy the black birch, red maples, and tulip trees to corn mazes, ghost tours, hot air balloon rides, and scenic flights.
There is also some wiggle room when you visit because the higher elevation means that fall foliage occurs from September to November.
In upstate New York, you can find Saratoga Springs in Saratoga County. From October, you can enjoy the fall foliage alongside its arts and culture scene, natural mineral springs, and horse racing.
To be captivated by the goldenrod, red, and orange colors, try Congress Park and Saratoga Spa State Park. Particularly the latter if you want to enjoy cross-country skiing trails, snowshoeing, and ice skating later in the year.
Also in upstate New York, you’ll find Lake George, known as the ‘Queen of the American Lakes’ with good reason.
This is an ideal destination for a family to enjoy nature, and the many lakeside activities to enjoy from canoeing to fishing.
You may want to get on the water for a paddle boat ride, or in a pontoon boat. Overall, the views around the lake are stunning.
From early to late October, the fall foliage of black spruce, red maple, white pine, northern white cedar, and balsam fir trees turn to vivid shades of red and orange.
New York City
Arguably the best time to visit New York City is in the early stages of winter when the festive season starts in earnest.
Though there is nothing quite like an NYC Christmas, you may want to get there around Thanksgiving for the peak time of fall foliage.
For the rest of New York state, the colors may have already changed yet in New York City and Long Island mid to late November is the ideal time to see fall foliage.
Around this time of the year, several locations offer various examples of fall foliage. Central Park is clearly the ideal location to visit to see the trees change colors from bright orange, yellow, and red leaves.
With 1,250 acres to choose from, there is a lot to choose from. However, the conservancy lake that lies at Fifth Avenue and 72nd Street is a great spot to view the hawthorn trees.
There is also the 38-acre Ramble bang in the middle of Central Park while the Upper West Side of Manhattan should also feature decidedly bright red leaves.
For a relatively little-known spot in the metropolis, seek out Fort Tryon Park which is close to the Cloisters Museum and Gardens. Hidden in the Inwood neighborhoods, you can find glorious views of the Hudson River and even a tiny garden.
As fall approaches, take a hike to Linden Terrace which is one of the highest spots, aside from a skyscraper, in Manhattan.
There are a full 20 miles of cliffs with bright orange and copper foliage to enjoy while you can marvel across the Hudson River Palisades.
In Brooklyn, at the same time, you can expect to see a huge color change of up to 95% with red, orange, and yellow leaves. The areas to look out for in Brooklyn are Greenpoint and Williamsburg which can experience prominent leaf droppage.
The black birch, tulip trees, and red maples along Fifth Avenue, particularly those between Bergen and 9th Streets, are well worth looking out for. The best time to see the gold and rust-colored leaves is in October.
As an alternative to Central Park, check out Prospect Park as it was designed by the same pair of individuals; Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted.
At 585 acres, you should find it easier to cover more ground. The sugar maple trees turn from green to red and orange by the waters. By late October, try the Ravine, which is a lushly wooded area known for its plentiful concentration of plants.
Alley Pond Park in Queens is a great place to go for fall foliage. The 657 acres is where you can find the largest and oldest tulip trees. These include the Alley Pond Giant featured on the Tulip Tree Trail.
That tree alone is well worth a visit. However, the surrounding pin oaks, black cherries, white pines, American beech, red oaks, sweet gums, and red maples also complement the red and orange shades.
For an all-day hike, head deep into the forest, take in the calming wetlands and enjoy the view that seems miles away from New York City.
Then there is Staten Island where you can visit Snug Harbor and see the trees shift from green to red. Bloomingdale Park has a range of woodlands across its 139 acres and the pin oaks, sweet gums, and red maples will turn orange and red.
The park also has several fall foliage hikes where you can find out more about how the leaves change color and find the best views of the lush woods. Again, October may be your best time to visit.
Towards the end of October, be sure to visit Greenbelt Nature Center. It certainly is worth a day trip with the family to take it all in.
The public parkland encompasses 1,778 acres and in fall it comes to life. The forests are largely undisturbed so you can get away from the hustle and bustle of metropolitan life to enjoy the bright red and orange foliage.
Aside from the leaves, another feature of the parkland is the plethora of birds and animals. One of the best vantage points to take it all in is Moses’ Mountain. The vantage point allows you a panoramic view of the foliage from 200 feet up.
That foliage would include hickory, oak, sweet gum, maple, tulip, and beech trees. Also, don’t skip the Greenbelt Conservancy, which has Fall Foliage Walks from the Nature Center. If you escape the busy city life, then take your family to experience nature’s finest.
If mid-October is your ideal time to catch some fall foliage then head to The Bronx, specifically Old Croton Adequate. The Douglas fir and Ginkgo trees are decidedly more than adequate with both offering a sense of peace.
The trees line the dirt pathway from Croton Dam found in Cortlandt all the way to Van Cortlandt Park.
Should you want to see it all a bit quicker then hop on two wheels and ride on the sidewalk. It can be a bit dangerous if you encounter traffic.
New York Botanical Garden is a 250-acre outdoor museum in the center of The Bronx. For a small fee, you can enjoy their vast collection of vegetation and flowers.
However, come October, the red maple, oak, sweet gum, and tulip trees beautify the city with their red and purple colors.
In amongst the valleys and ridges of northwest Bronx is Van Cortlandt Park, worth a visit in its own right.
The huge park is over 60% wooded and includes sweet gum, hickory, and oak trees whose leaves turn to the color of rust and orange in fall.
An ideal viewing spot can be found on the 1.1 miles of Old Croton Aqueduct Trail where you can also find maple and tulip trees.
There is also John Muir Trail that goes through the Northeast Forest which, alongside sweet gum, red oak, and tulip trees, you can find a marsh filled with frogs.
Though it may be a bit of a trek, Wave Hill can be ideal if you want to find a sedate area to do some leaf-peeping.
The 28-acre public outdoor museum overlooks the Hudson River and after a hike to the main outlook, you can take in the Hudson River under the pergola.
During fall, the black birch, maples, sweet and sour gums, and tulip trees provide a stunning display of orange and red colors.
If you need to take a minute, find a Wave Hill Chair that you can sit on even though it is part of the collection included in the Museum of Modern Art.
Finally, there is the Bronx River Greenway which is a 25-mile multi-use path that snakes a trail of green.
Arrive in October and you can enjoy the oaks, London planes, sassafras, tulip poplars, red maples, sycamores, and beech trees as their leaves turn yellow, orange, and red.
The path connects various New York City parks including those that line the Bronx River starting from the Bronx-Westchester County line all the way to Soundview Park.
From October, New York comes alive with fall foliage and though there are several places in New York City to see it, head further out and you will be duly rewarded.
Upstate New York is an ideal place to travel to as you can take in the sights of Lake Placid and Saratoga Springs as well as the Adirondacks.
To the west of the state, there is Finger Lakes though closer to NYC you can simply head to The Catskills and Hudson Valley as the leaves turn into bright hues of yellow, orange, and red.
Frequently Asked Questions
When Is The Ideal Time To See The Fall Foliage?
Considering how large the state of New York is, you could see different stages of fall foliage based on the location. Starting at the top of the state, you can expect to see fall foliage from the end of September.
In the White Mountain region, this happens a bit later into October. While in the south you can expect to see fall foliage begin in the middle of October.
What Conditions Can Affect Fall Foliage?
Fall foliage occurs when the color of the leaves changes and they fall to the ground. Weather conditions such as rainstorms, particularly windy ones, cause the leaves to drop, earlier than they would naturally.
In fall itself, if the weather is predominantly sunny and cold then this increases the production of anthocyanins which boosts the color of the foliage.
A wet summer can help boost the health of a tree and its ability to retain leaves which leads to great fall foliage.
Alternatively, a hot, drought-ridden summer can stress out trees so that they shift color and lose their leaves earlier than they normally would.
The species of the tree can also have an impact on the fall foliage and some to look out for include sugar maple, vine maple, Franklin tree, apple serviceberry, and Washington hawthorn.
Areas that include large numbers of conifers, pines, hemlocks, and other evergreen trees can reduce the intensity of color yet may provide a welcome break to all those bright colors.
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